about Asatru

disclaimer: This article is based on the AFA FAQ, and has been modified for use by the Heathen Kinship Kindred.

What is Asatru?

Long before Christianity came to northern Europe, the people there - our ancestors - had their own religions. One of these was Asatru. It was practiced in the lands that are today Scandinavia, England, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and other countries as well. Asatru is the original, or native, religion for the peoples who lived in these regions. Simply put, you might think of it as "the religion of the Vikings" since they were its main followers in the years just before our ancestors were forced to adopt Christianity.


What does the word "Asatru" mean?

The author Edred Thorsson explains the etymology of the word Asatrú on pp. 2-3 of his, "A Book of Troth". He states that Asatrú is an Icelandic word made up of two parts; Asa, meaning "of the æsir" and tru, usually translated as "faith".  The author goes on to say that in order to completely understand the word's meaning you must examine the root of the term "tru".  Tru is derived from the root word "deru" (Indo-European) meaning firm, solid, or steadfast.  The terms troth, trust, true, and even tree are traceable to the root of "deru".  In some circles, people wonder if using the term Asatrú refers to one's loyalty to a branch of the gods known as the Æsir, and therefore leaves out the branch of the gods known as the Vanir.   Actually "æsir" means "gods" (plural of ás).  Many Ásatrúar confuse the word with Æsir, the name of one particular family of gods.   Also, the term Asatru has come to refer even to those who are "Trú to more or less following some of the traditions of the Teutonic Folk", without necessarily implying a real belief in the gods!


When did Asatru start?

Asatru is thousands of years old (though it is practiced in a modern form today, to meet the needs of our age). Its beginnings are lost in prehistory, the spirit it expresses, though, is as ancient as the northern European peoples themselves - anywhere from a mere 3,000 years old to perhaps as much as 42,000 years.


Why do we need Asatru? Aren't most people who want religion satisfied with Christianity or one of the other "established" religions?

People are attracted to the better-known religions because they have genuine spiritual needs which must be filled. People are looking for community, fellowship, and answers to the "big questions": the purpose of life, how we should live it, and what happens after death. For many people today, the so-called major faiths do not have answers that work. Asatru has answers, but most seekers haven't known about it. Once they realize that there is another way - a better, more natural, more honorable way - they will not be satisfied with anything less than a return to the religion of their ancestors.


Why is the religion of our ancestors the best one for us?

Because we are more like our ancestors than we are like anyone else. We inherited not only their general physical appearance, but also their predominant mental, emotional, and spiritual traits. We think and feel more like they did; our basic needs are most like theirs. The religion which best expressed their innermost nature - Asatru - is better suited to us than is some other creed which started in the Middle East among people who have different mental, emotional, and spiritual traits. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are alien religions which do not truly speak to our souls.


Why did Asatru die out if it was the right religion for Europeans?

Asatru was subjected to a violent campaign of repression over a period of hundreds of years. Countless thousands of people were murdered, maimed, and exiled in the process. The common people (your ancestors!) did not give up their cherished beliefs easily. Eventually, the monolithic organization of the Christian church, bolstered by threats of economic isolation and assisted by an energetic propaganda campaign, triumphed over the valiant but unsophisticated tribes. Often, our strength was our weakness then. St. Olaf is a good example of this, upon converting to Christianity he declared the entire Country Christian, and forced many men to convert at the point of a sword. In appreciation of his effective mass-conversion techniques, the Catholic church declared Olaf a Saint. The Church did everything it could to dissuade the common people from continuing their traditions, and remembering their gods. They did this extremely effectively.

Or so it seemed! Despite this persecution, elements of Asatru continued down to our own times - often in the guise of folklore - proving that our own native religion appeals to our innermost beings in a fundamental way. Now, a thousand years after its supposed demise, it is alive and growing. Indeed, so long as there are men and women who are willing to live life to its fullest and believe in their own self-worth, it cannot really die because it springs from the soul of our people. Asatru isn't just what we believe, it's what we are.


You talk about "our" people... Are you racists?

No. We believe that the spiritual value or worth of every human being is not determined in any way by race. That is, people are different, and each person has unique contributions that they can make in this world, and we -as fellow humans- are not in any position to judge anyone else's worth or value, to the gods, to their family, to themselves. Anyone who is called by the gods can be Asatru. Anyone who honors the Aesir & Vanir, and observes the rites, acts in honor, and genuinely attempts to LIVE the religion can be Asatru.  We encourage everyone to look to the religion of their ancestors and honestly ask themselves if that religion feels more natural to them than something they may have been taught.  Obviously, this is a subjective question, and we cannot begin to answer this for you. You must look to yourself and ask yourself if the native religion of your ancestors is right for you. In today's world, when very few of us have only one cultural branch on our family tree, looking to the religion of your ancestors may involve looking into several differing beliefs and determining for yourself which one feels right to you.


Wasn't the acceptance of Christianity a sign of civilization - a step up from barbarism?

No. The so-called "barbarians" who followed Asatru (the Vikings, the various Germanic tribes, and so forth) were the source of our finest civilized traditions - trial by jury, parliaments, Anglo Saxon common law, the right to bear arms, and the rights of women, to name a few. Our very word "law" comes from the Norse language, not from the tongues of the Christian lands. We simply did not, and do not, need Christianity or other Middle Eastern creeds in order to be civilized.


You say Asatru was the religion of the Vikings, among other early European cultures. Weren't they a pretty bloodthirsty lot?

Modern historians agree that the Vikings were no more violent than the other peoples of their times. Remember, the descriptions of Viking raids and invasions were all written by their enemies, who were hardly unbiased. Both the Islamic and Christian cultures used means every bit as bloody, if not more so, than the Norsemen. It was a very rough period in history for all concerned!  Our culture has always held the warrior in a place of high esteem and our people continue to hold the warrior in high esteem, despite their religion. With Asatru, the religion freely recognizes the valuable place of the warrior in society.  We do not feel this is violent or bloodthirsty, rather we feel it is honest.  Equally, we honor the poet, the musician, the skilled craftsman(woman), the learned scholar; we simply do not exclude the soldier or warrior from our respect.


We keep talking about the Vikings. Does this mean that Asatru is only for people of Scandinavian ancestry?

No. Asatru, as practiced by the Norse peoples, had so much in common with the religion of the other Germanic tribes, and with their cousins the Celts, that it may be thought of as one version of a general European religion. Asatru is for all people. Those of European origin, whether or not their heritage is specifically Scandinavian, may have ancestors who have been Asatru for time stretching back into Prehistory, and these people may feel a call to return to the original religion of their kin. Regardless of your ancestral background. If you feel the call of the old gods, then you should look into it.


What are the basic tenets or beliefs of Asatru?

We believe in an underlying, all-pervading divine energy or essence which is generally hidden from us, and which is beyond our immediate understanding. We further believe that this spiritual reality is interdependent with us - that we affect it, and it affects us.

We believe that this underlying divinity expresses itself to us in the forms of the Gods and Goddesses. Stories about these deities are like a sort of code, the mysterious "language" through which the divine reality speaks to us.

We believe in standards of behavior which are consistent with these spiritual truths and harmonious with our deepest being.

--The following is from the article What is Asatru:

Not everyone who calls themself an Asatruar believes the same things about the gods and goddesses, even to the point of some of us holding conflicting beliefs about which of the gods and goddesses are still existent! We all subscribe to some basic ideas about personal honor, ethics, and following through with our convictions, no matter who it may offend.

These convictions of personal honour are well described by the Nine Noble Virtues and the Six - Fold Goal.

The Nine Noble Virtues are:
Courage (heartiness),
Honor (worthiness),
Fidelity (troth),
Discipline (hardiness),
Hospitality (friendliness),
Industriousness (work),
Self-reliance (freedom),
Perseverance (steadfastness).

And the Six - Fold Goal is:
1.Right - following a just law for the benefit of all, equally applied to all.
2.Wisdom - It is good and admirable to learn as much as you can
3.Might - People and societies must be strong to protect themselves.
4.Harvest - We deserve the fruits of our labor
5.Frith - It is good to live in peace and harmony with your family, and your society
- Love yourself, your life, this world, the people around you that you share this world with.

The Nine Noble Virtues are matters of personal honour which we, as Asatruar all strive to attain. The Six - Fold Goal is a statement of our beliefs as a people. Though some Asatruar have never even heard of the Six – Fold Goal, it fairly well describes those things for which we are willing to live, and die. We believe we have the right to 1. Right. The following of Just Law for the benefit of all. This does NOT mean restrictions, this means that we, as a people, generally recognize that there must be just Laws if we are going to exist together in an advanced society, and that having and following those Laws is Right. We also believe in the society’s right, as a whole, and the individual’s right to attain 2. Wisdom. We recognize the importance of 3. Might as it relates to both individuals and societies and we hold that it is Right and True for the Might of the individual or society to dominate those of lesser Might. In this case, this is more of a recognition of a reality that exists in our physical world of Midgard, than it is of any kind of idealist belief that "Might Makes Right". We recognize that it is good and Right for a person or a society to develop their Might. The next Goal, that of 4. Harvest, is the belief that we deserve the fruits of our labours. That it is Right for us to reap the cycles of nature, to provide nourishment for the folk. 5. Frith is the peace and prosperity that comes with the fulfillment of the Nine Nobles Virtues and all the Six - Fold Goal. Frith refers to the thriving of the folk, in this case, the Asatruar. 6. Love, is the Goal most often unappreciated, in my opinion, by the rest of society. When most people hear Love as one of the Goals, they assume it to mean the romantic love between two people, or maybe the love of an adult for their child. And while these are beautiful and worthy things, the Love referred to here is the vitality and lust for life embodied in Frey and Freyja. It is the erotic thrill of life itself, the lust of passion and the senses, the enjoyment of pleasure. This is natural to our people and, we believe, Right for us to enjoy. These things, then, are some of the basic ideas which go into defining "What is Asatrú?"


How does Asatru differ from other religions?

Asatru is unlike the better-known religions in many ways. Some of these are:

We are polytheistic. That is, we believe in a number of deities, including Goddesses as well as Gods. (We have a tongue-in-cheek saying that a religion without a Goddess is halfway to atheism!)

We do not accept the idea of "original sin," the notion that we are tainted from birth and intrinsically bad, as does Christianity. Thus, we do not need "saving" from anything.

We do not accept the idea that the world is all suffering, and that the only way to no peace/joy is through a dissolution of the human ego into the super consciousness of the universe as do some oriental religions..  Rather, we think that the world is here for living in, and that we should strive to live as fully as we may however long our lives may be.  To us the world is full of suffering and joy, and we seek to face the suffering with honor while enjoying the pleasures.  For us, though, the hard work involved in achieving success is part of the joy and pleasure!

We do not claim to be a universal religion, a faith for all of humankind. The different branches of humanity have different ways of looking at the world, each of which is valid for them. It is only right that they have different religions.  We are not looking for people who like the idea of avoiding responsiblity for their own actions. There is no "forgiveness" in our religion, if you are guilty of some infraction then you must make it right, no god will do it for you or take that from you, or forgive you for no apparent reason.

Some of the other things that we believe in are:

We're the children of the gods, full of worth and potential.
Live honourably, fully and generously.
Give freely to your family/clan and gladly accept the gifts given to you!
Through hard work, reap the rewards you earn, and enjoy the body you have.
Sensuality and sex is natural and good.
Overindulgence is harmful to you.
The gods are there for you, but better if you rely on yourself, and thereby grow!
If you accomplish something, take pride in the results of your own effort.
Being overly prideful is harmful to you and your family/clan.

If you can afford to help pay for the mead, then pitch in!

Do you consider the Norse myths to be true?

The myths are stories about the Gods and Goddesses of Asatru. We believe they are ways of stating religious truths. That is, we would say they contain truths about the nature of divinity, our own nature, and the relationship between the two. We do not contend that the myths are literally true, as history.  Like with any group of people.. opinions will vary, and there are no doubt many who would state that the myths are literally true.


What about these Gods and Goddesses? Are they real?

Yes, they are real. We do not believe that Thor (for example) is actually a muscular, man-shaped entity carrying a big hammer, living on the other side of a rainbow. There is a real Thor, but we approach an understanding of him through this particular mental picture. Most of us do believe that Thor CAN walk the earth as a man if he should choose to however!


Do followers of Asatru pray to their Gods and Goddesses?

Yes, we pray to our gods as often as we want. We see ourselves as their kin, and perceive them as authority figures. Our prayers may run the gamut from begging to demanding, but generally we are speaking to someone that we know, have a relationship with, like and respect and this relationship is reflected in the often casual nature of our prayers. We speak to the gods with respect, but we know they are not looking for subjects or "worshippers" they are looking for men and women of quality, willing to stand on our own. We commune with them and honor them while seeking their blessing through formal rites and informal meditation. We often talk with our Gods, whom we perceive to be very present and very active in our lives. We can ask them for advice or help in any situation. Many Asatruar feel particularly close to one particular God or Goddess and tend to talk with that God or Goddess more often than the others.


Don't you worship stones and trees and idols?

No. We know that trees, wooden statues, the Sun, and other natural or man-made objects are not Gods, so we don't worship them. We do sometimes use these items as reminders of a God or Goddess, and we believe they can become "charged" with a certain aspect of the divine energy, but we would never confuse them with the actual deity! We do not engage in idol worship, but some of us do use statues of the gods to help us mentally focus on the god or goddess that we are praying to at the moment.


You mentioned certain standards of behavior taught in Asatru. What are these?

Some of the qualities we hold in high regard are strength, courage, joy, honor, freedom, loyalty to kin, realism, vigor, and the revering of our ancestors. To express these things in our lives is virtuous, and we strive to do this. Their opposites - weakness, cowardice, adherence to dogma rather than to the realities of the world, and the like - constitute our vices and are to be avoided. Proper behavior in Asatru consists of maximizing one's virtues and minimizing one's vices.

This code of conduct reflects the highest and most heroic ideals of our people.


Don't all religions believe in these things you've just named?

No. People may honestly believe that this is the case, but examination does not bear this out.  Our PEOPLE believe in freedom, yet biblical scriptures say they are slaves to their God.  Our PEOPLE instinctively know that joy is good, but other religious teachings laden them with guilt over pleasure or because of some imaginary "original sin".  Our PEOPLE want to accept the real world on a pragmatic basis, yet they are trained to believe without question when the teachings of the church conflict with reason or with known facts about the nature of the world ("You must have faith."). Christianity and Islam is based on the whole concept that mankind is inherently evil and the only way to keep mankind from being really nasty is to give them a list of rules that they must live by. In comparison, Asatru asks us to strive to improve our already natural virtues. In Hinduism one strives to reduce their Karmic burden so that their soul progesses further toward liberation or enlightment with each incarnation upon the earth. In Hinduism there is no "sin" against the gods, the "sin" is when you do bad things and add to your own Karmic burden. There are many many paths within Hinduism and it is a very complex religion, making it ridiculous to try to summarize in a brief paragraph on a FAQ page! However it is generally true that most paths towards enlightenment in Hinduism (but not all) contain a element of moving toward a totally dispassionate state whereby the Jogi or Jiva or practioner learns to live without desires, expectations, or attachments. Quite the contrary in Heathenism we think desires, and attachments are part of the fun of living this life. As a silly example, and enlightened Swami should not take pride in his built-up Jeep, that's a material thing that does not help his spiritual progression. In Asatru it's perfectly find to enjoy your built-up Jeep, preferably as often as you can. It's not okay for it to be more important to you than family, friends, your duties and responsibilities, but it IS okay for it to be awesome!

Many of us believe in the values of Asatru on a gut level. After all, they're instinctive, passed down to us from our ancestors. We want to believe that the better-known religions espouse those values, so we see what we want to see. Most people just haven't yet realized that the major religions are saying things that conflict with the values we know in our hearts are right.


What do you have to say about good and evil?

Good and evil are not constants. What is good in one case will not be good in another, and evil in one circumstance will not be evil under a different set of conditions. And as in nature, what is good to some may not be good to others. In no case are good and evil dictated to us by edicts written by an authoritarian deity, as in the Middle East. We are expected to use our freedom, responsibility, and awareness of duty to serve the highest and best ends. We say that good things are things which cause more help or weal, than they do harm or woe. Thus, to do Good, one must strive to act in ways that accomplish more help than harm, or more weal than woe.


What does Asatru teach about an afterlife?

We believe that there is an afterlife, and that those who have lived virtuous lives will go on to experience greater fulfillment, pleasure, and challenge. Those who have led lives characterized more by vice than by virtue will be separated from kin, doomed to an existence of dullness and gloom. The precise nature of the afterlife - what it will look like and feel like - is beyond our understanding and is dealt with symbolically in the myths. Some Asatruar focus on the halls of the gods, and hope that they are able to be with the god or goddess after this life. Other Asatruar hope for rebirth, while still others expect to end up in the goddess Hella's realm.

There is also a tradition in Asatru of rebirth within the family line. Perhaps the individual is able to choose whether or not he or she is re-manifested in this world, or there may be natural laws which govern this. In a sense, of course, we all live on in our descendants quite apart from an afterlife as such.

Part of the difficulty in discussing this with most people who have grown up familiar with the spiritual concepts of Eastern religions such as Christianity, is that the Eastern Religions tend to teach that we have a body and a soul (or spirit). Whereas in Asatru we are taught that the spirit is not one, solid, unified entity. But rather, that is has many parts and aspects. You see, our ancestors were very familiar with their souls and spiritual things, and had to develop words and concepts to discuss the various parts of the souls or spirit. Most people today, are only familiar with the fact that there IS a spiritual side to them, not very aware of what all the parts to that side ARE. Just as you have a physical body, but there are many parts to that physical body, that all perform different functions, so too does your spiritual body have different parts that perform different functions. And some of these parts have different "destinies" after death.

To be honest, we of Asatru do not overly concern ourselves with the next world. We live here and now, in this existence. If we do this and do it well, the next life will take care of itself.


Does Asatru involve ancestor worship?

Asatru says we should honor our ancestors. It also says we are bonded to those ancestors in a special way. However, we do not actually worship them.

We believe our forebears have passed to us certain spiritual qualities just as surely as they have given us various physical traits. They live on in us. The family or clan is above and beyond the limits of time and place. Thus we have a reverence for our ancestry even though we do not involve ourselves in ancestor worship as such.  We do believe that part of an ancestor's spirit may occasionally "stay around" and keep a special watch over their family or a favored place. If your grandma or great grandma has passed on, and yet you still feel her watchful notice from time to time, and maybe you even "talk" to her sometimes, then you are experiencing the same spiritual beliefs as your Heathen ancestors!


Does Asatru have a holy book, like the Bible?

No. There are written sources which are useful to us because they contain much of our sacred lore in the form of myths and examples of right conduct, but we do not accept them as infallible documents. Any religion which does this is deceiving itself about the purity and precision of the written word.

The written sources they we most often turn to are the Eddas, a series of poems and stories about the Gods and heroic people and other wights. These poems were oral tradition until they were written down (mostly in the twelfth) century by people trying to preserve the fading oral stories. Most of the men writing these stories down were Christians/monks, so that means that sometimes there was a little bias built into the story. When we examine these stories, we have to bear in mind the fluidic nature of oral tradition, and the human nature of the monks that wrote down the stories.

There are two real sources of holy truth, and neither expresses itself to us in words. One is the universe around us, which is a manifestation of the underlying divine essence. The other is the universe inside us, passed down from our ancestors as instinct, emotion, innate predispositions, and perhaps even racial memory. By combining these sources of internal and external wisdom with the literature left us by our ancestors, we arrive at religious truths. This living spiritual guidance is better than any dusty, dogmatic "holy book".


I've heard Asatru described as a "Nature religion". What does that mean?

We treasure the spiritual awe, the feeling of "connecting" with the Gods and Goddesses, which can come from experiencing the beauty and majesty of Nature. Our deities act in and through natural law. By working in harmony with Nature we can become co-workers with the Gods. This attitude removes the opposition between "natural" and "supernatural", and the supposed conflict between religion and science.

For us, following a "Nature religion" means recognizing that we are part of Nature, subject to all its laws. We may be Gods-in-the-making, but we are members of the animal kingdom nonetheless!


Where did the universe come from, according to Asatru?

Our myths describe the beginning of the universe as the unfolding of a natural process, rather than an event requiring supernatural intervention. Followers of Asatru need not abandon modern science to retain their religion. The old lore of our people describes the interaction of fire and ice, and the development of life from these - but this is symbolic, and we will leave it to the physicists to discover how the universe was born. What we have from our stories, though is that there was a formless void, full of potential but nothing was manifest. Fire began to collect to one side, and Ice began to collect opposite of Fire. Frost from Niflheim and flames from Muspelheim crept closer to each other, to this dark silent void of nothingness called Ginnungagap that lay between them. In this place of Fire and Ice the first physical form came into being. From the dripping of ice and the heat of the flames upon the void full of potential, as a portion of the icy frost melted, Ymir the first creature, a giant, came into being.


What are the runes, and what do they have to do with Asatru?

On one level runes are the ancient alphabet of the Scandinavian/Germanic peoples, used for record making, memorials, and general writing.  At the same time, the Runes are symbols representing various concepts or forces in the universe. Taken together, they express our ancestors' worldview. Their meanings are intimately connected with the teachings of Asatru. Our myths tell the story of how Odin, father of the Gods, won them through painful ordeal so that Gods and humans alike might benefit from their wisdom. Many runic Vitkis use them for divination.


How is Asatru organized?

Asatru is non-authoritarian and decentralized, expressing our love of freedom. Many Heathens tend to have common beliefs, but we have little dogma. There is no all-powerful spiritual leader whose word is law; no "pope" of Asatru to dictate truth. No guru or priest has the one-and-only direct line to the Gods. The Gods live in you! It does make it hard to have large get togethers or make any difference as a voting bloc!


How can I learn more about Asatru?

Books are your friends. Read plenty, and don't believe anything just because it's in one book. There are some authors that churn out books on every alternative path with only a minimum of research. You'll want to get more than one translation of the Eddas, and a copy of the Prose Eddas. Then read the sagas and then read scholarly works about the culture and the myths. Google for different websites. Check out the board hoard on our website.


What part does the Warrior play in the Heathenry today?

In a way, we are all warriors.  Each of us fighting our own battles, internal or external, every day.  Nevertheless, there is a fine martial tradition among our folk, and we are proud of it.  Today's modern Heathen/Asatru warrior can be a member of the military, a police officer, a security officer. He or she can express warriorhood through MMA fighting or fencing, or some other competitive sport. Every Father and Every Mother can be a warrior when it comes to safeguarding their children. Anyone physically protecting (or preparing themselves to protect) their friends, family, country, or even themselves can tap into that warrior spirit that resides within us all.